Newsflash: Volkswagen komt met antwoord op Tesla Roadster

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+++ CHINA is the world’s largest market for new energy vehicles, but Chinese carmakers still lag behind international companies in terms of vehicle quality, according to a JD Power China study. The study, now in its second year, measures new vehicle quality by examining problems experienced by new energy vehicle owners within the first 2 to 6 months of ownership. New vehicle quality is defined by problems per 100 vehicles, with a lower number of problems indicating higher quality. The study shows that the average number of problems reported this year is 138 per 100 vehicles. The number of problems for established Chinese brands is 147, which is 35 more than that for international brands and 21 more than local startups. Jeff Cai, general manager of auto product at JD Power China, said established Chinese automakers are weaker in resource integration and less favored in the capital market. If they want to survive, they must accelerate technology and product innovation and strive to improve quality. “As the new energy vehicle market is shifting from policy-driven to policy and market-driven, competition among brands will gradually focus on the product itself”, Cai said. The study also finds that international brands perform better in the exterior, infotainment system, seats, powertrain, and interior categories, while Chinese startup brands like Nio exceed in driving experience, battery and charging. “Both Chinese and foreign startups, such as Nio and Tesla, are more outstanding in exterior design, human-machine interaction and technology innovation, while joint venture brands surpass others in manufacturing techniques”, said Eileen Ren, vice-president of new energy vehicle solutions at JD Power China. Ren said new energy vehicle owners not only expect technological and smart in-vehicle features, but also require high quality. That means carmakers must deliver vehicles with both high quality and advanced technology. In August, sales of new energy vehicles reached 109.000; up 25.8 % year-on-year, according to statistics from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Their sales totaled 596.000 in the first 8 months; down 26.4 % from the same period last year. +++ 

+++ My first visit to Maranello came in 1993, to drive the then new 456GT. It was in its own understated way a landmark car for FERRARI : all-new from end to end, the first with a 6-speed manual gearbox and the first in far too long not to rely on the Fiat parts bin for the majority of its switchgear. It would shortly beget the 550 Maranello, so siring a line of front-engined V12 supercars that remains unbroken to this day. I can remember every moment of that trip and thinking to myself that the day that spending one’s time in such a way felt remotely normal would be the day I left this profession for good. 27 years and who knows how many trips later, that day seems as far off as ever. Not least because the most recent trip felt so like the first: less a simple automotive appraisal, more a looking glass into the future of the company. Back in 1993, the 450 hp 456GT was the most powerful standard production road car that Ferrari had ever made, with only the limited-edition F40 beating it, thanks to 490 hp. Yet the car I’m driving today, the SF90 Stradale, makes 1.000 hp; more than double the power of even the F40, let alone the 456GT. If it seems strange to compare a mid-engined 2-seater from 2020 with a front-engined 2+2 from 1993, remember the 456GT and SF90 have in common far more than a badge. Like the 456GT, the SF90 is all-new. Like the 456GT, it has become Ferrari’s priciest and therefore flagship model. And it too shines a light not only into Ferrari’s future but also that of the supercar and hypercar genres. The SF90 is also Ferrari’s fastest car to date, both in a straight line and around the track, its traction, tyre and electronic technology overcoming the fact that its power-to-weight ratio is actually inferior to the 2013 LaFerrari’s. Indeed, on street tyres, this mainstream production Ferrari road car can lap Fiorano at about the same pace as the track-honed, race-prepped FXX from 15 years ago did on slicks. Which, when you think about it, is staggering. Ah, Fiorano. Actually, and on this occasion alone, I’d not wanted to go to Ferrari’s fabled test track. We had ground to cover and many pages of images to fill, and I knew all the other magazines would use the standard Fiorano shots we’ve all seen so many times before. But in Ferrari’s unique and curious way, I was told that my attendance was ‘mandatory’. So that was that. And I was getting to drive a near-thousand-horsepower Ferrari on a purpose-built circuit, so you can dry your eyes now. You get so little time. I think I had 7 laps of what is quite a short circuit; 7 laps in which to get up to, on to and then past the limit of one of the fastest and most powerful road cars yet built. 7 laps in which to reach meaningful conclusions on its behaviour in all its driving modes, as well as figure out the pros and cons of Ferrari’s first-ever electrically driven front axle. And not crash. That bit is important and by no means a given around here. 7 laps at Fiorano speed equates to just over 9 minutes of driving. It’s one of the busier times a motoring journalist gets to spend driving a car. I actually didn’t bother with the SF90’s Sport mode, because I’d find out about that on the road. Nor did I fiddle with the hybrid modes, other than to select Qualifying, because that’s the only way you get all 1.000 hp. Well you would, wouldn’t you? And I didn’t spend any time warming up, getting into the groove or composing my features, because there wasn’t any. I just selected Race mode and went for it. And I could see in an instant where that lap time came from. The car was so fast, yet so clean and precise. Who knew that a thousand horses could be so successfully harnessed? Not me, for sure. So I went one further around the little manettino dial and turned off the traction control. At the exit of the first corner, the car went one way and the steering the other. Instant, heart-in-throat oversteer. I backed out instantly. A more progressive reapplication of power this time and still the back slid wide. But this time, once it reached a certain angle of slip, it just stayed there, in suspended animation as the combination of four driven wheels, 1.000 hp and one slightly befuddled driver, all overseen by simply dazzling electronic governance, contrived to make the SF90 slide until there was no opposite lock. It felt utterly secure. Indeed, you’ll appreciate just how hard the SF90 is still labouring to save you from yourself only when you finally switch off the stability control systems. And then, even if you’re reasonable at this stuff and even if you’ve been doing it for a very long time, you’re going to be very busy indeed. So busy indeed that when I got back to the pits and looked at my telephone, I discovered that I’d missed a call while I was out there. Despite the ringer turned up as loud as it would go, I simply hadn’t heard it. Some part of my subconsciousness had intercepted the message incoming from ear to brain and simply turned it around at the border. In many ways, the SF90 was even more impressive on the road than on the track. In fact, it seems implausible, if not actually ridiculous, that a car with this much potential should prove so easy to drive. It’s quiet, really comfortable, simple to operate and a lovely place to be. So isn’t this all great news, both for Ferrari, whose car appears to have bullseyed every target set for it, and for the future of the supercar if it’s to set off on the same blazing trail? Well yes, but only to a point. You see, such capability has been achieved at a price of a different kind to that which Ferrari charges for the SF90. To hit all of its marks, Ferrari has had to come up with a car with a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine, no fewer than 3 electric motors and all the batteries, inverters and other componentry required to make them all work together. And that’s quite a lot of mass. Ferrari says the SF90 weighs 1.570 kg, but that’s a dry weight using all the lightest, optional equipment. Ferrari says the extras save around 100 kg and you can usually add another 100 kg to take a car from its dry to the far more widely recognised kerb weight. Which means a standard SF90 probably weighs nearer 1.770 kg at the kerb. Which is a lot. The Ferrari F8 Tributo has a kerb weight of 1.435 kg, which means that while the SF90 is almost 300 hp stronger than the F8 Tributo, their power-to-weight ratios aren’t so different at all: 495 hp per tonne for the F8 Tributo, 557 hp per tonne (on a presumed 1.770 kg kerb weight) for the SF90. So what’s this actually buying you? Sufficient traction to be able to deploy 1.000 hp without further delay and thereby pop 2.5 seconds 0-100 kph runs. But as anyone who is honest and has actually accelerated that fast will tell you, there’s precisely nothing to recommend the experience unless you particularly get off on scaring your passengers witless or feeling rather sick. In terms of g-force, it’s almost exactly the same as doing a panic emergency stop in a car with really good brakes, just in reverse. And I can think we can all agree that there’s not much fun in that. There are other problems associated with the mass, too, not least the rather artificial feel of the steering. Most notably, the SF90’s electrically driven front axle may bequeath all that traction and otherworldly behaviour on the limit (although you may ask yourself whether it’s you or the car that’s actually driving), but it also takes away almost all your luggage space. The SF90’s boot is a quarter the size of that belonging to the Ferrari 812 Superfast, which means anything more than day trips for 2 people is going to at best require a lot of planning, at worst be simply impossible. But there is a benefit here. It’s big and my guess is that it was the single most persuasive reason for Ferrari green-lighting the SF90. According to WLTP data, this car emits just 154 g/km of CO2. The conventionally powered F8 Tributo 294g/km. So yes, on paper, this near-thousand-horsepower, 1.700+ kg hypercar not only produces little more than half the CO2 of the far less potent and much lighter F8 Tributo, it actually emits less than the flyweight 1.8-litre Alpine A110. Which just goes to show how ridiculous and misleading even the new WLTP test protocols (designed to be far more realistic than the old NEDC regime) have already become. But they will be a huge help in Ferrari’s quest to meet its emissions commitments. So on balance, is this the right way for Ferrari in particular and the supercar world in general to proceed? My unequivocal answer is yes and no. The emissions legislation isn’t going anywhere and will, in fact, only become more stringent, and until someone actually figures out how to make an electric car fun to drive (don’t hold your breath) hybridisation isn’t just advisable but unavoidable. Which is why Aston Martin, McLaren and Porsche have been developing such powertrains for their sports cars too, although none yet is in use. But you can pursue it too far. However much I enjoyed and admired the SF90, nor could I help thinking how much better even than that it would be if it were simpler, lighter and more usable. Lose the 2 front motors and not only do you lose a load of weight but get your boot back, too. And although this sounds prosaic, out there among people who buy cars like this (which is in series production so therefore won’t be bought by collectors), such stuff really matters. Yes, you’ll drop a couple of hundred horsepower and a few tenths off the 0-100 kph time, but you’ll still be able to accelerate so fast that you might forget to breathe, which is enough for most. All eyes now fall upon the replacement for the F8 Tributo, which is probably due a year or 2 from now. Will it be a hybrid? Will it have an electrically driven front axle? And will it be not just cheaper than the SF90 but also lighter and even better to drive? My guesses are yes, no, yes, yes and yes. +++ 

+++ The European Investment Bank (EIB) has increased to almost €800 million its funding to FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES (FCA) to support production of electric and hybrid vehicles, they said in a joint statement. Investments to manufacture battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will be mainly directed at FCA plants located in southern Italy, supporting employment and compliance with the strictest environmental criteria. To improve capacity utilisation at FCA’s Italian plants, the group has announced a €5 billion investment plan for the country through 2021 which envisages the launch of new electric and hybrid models. EIB and FCA had sealed €300 million in financing before the summer to fund investments for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle production lines at plants in Melfi, in the southern Basilicata region, and battery electric vehicles at Fiat’s historic Turin plant of Mirafiori over the 2019-2021 period. FCA has now finalised a €485 million deal with EIB to support both an innovative line of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles at the Pomigliano plant in the southern Campania region as well as R&D activities at FCA laboratories in Turin. The EIB credit line covers 75 % of the total value of FCA’s investment in the project for the 2020-2023 period. +++ 

+++ Shortly after FORD confirmed that the electric F-150 will be built in a new facility at the automaker’s Rouge vehicle assembly complex, a teaser image showcasing the front fascia of the truck has found its way online. While Ford could have quite easily decided to make the electric F-150 look almost identical to the combustion engine variants, this teaser reveals the truck will instead have a unique design, at least with regards to the front fascia. The teaser image reveals the truck will have a full-width LED lightbar and prominent daytime running lights. We can also see small main headlight units and a rectangular grille. The front end does look a bit like a mix between the Rivian R1T and the new Ford Bronco, although that is no bad thing. Elsewhere, we can see the F-150 EV will have a hood similar in shape to other F-150 models while also using a set of relatively small wing mirrors. Beyond its looks, Ford says the electric F-150 will feature 2 electric motors and “deliver more horsepower and torque than any F-150 available today”. That means it will have more than the 450 hp and 691 Nm of the current Raptor version. Ford has also confirmed the electric model will be the fastest-accelerating version of the F-150 and have the “ability to tow heavy trailers”. The use of a compact electric powertrain will also allow Ford to repurpose the truck’s engine bay into a spacious front trunk. +++ 

+++ Back in June, the organizers of the GENEVA MOTOR SHOW cancelled the 2021 event as a survey showed most exhibitors “would probably not participate” and instead preferred the show return in 2022. On top of that, they announced their intention to sell the rights to the show as the last minute cancellation of this year’s Geneva Motor Show cost them approximately 11 million Swiss francs (€10.1 million). The Canton of Geneva offered to provide a loan to cover that and then some, but it came with conditions the organizers couldn’t live with. While it was hoped the rights to the show would be bought by the Palexpo exhibition center where it is held, organizers wanted 15 million Swiss francs (€13.9 million). That was described as a “huge” sum and it appeared Palexpo wasn’t interested. Fast forward to today and the Geneva Motor Show might live on. According to documents, “automakers are being offered an all-inclusive package that covers the cost of their stands and accommodations for guests” at a 2021 event. However, it would be a shell of past Geneva Motor Shows as it would only span 3 days and be limited to members of the media. No automakers have confirmed their involvement yet and authorities would have to sign off on the event. The show would reportedly be hosted by Palexpo and combine physical as well as digital elements. The entry-level package reportedly costs 150.000 francs (€139.042) and would enable automakers to display one car and invite up to 10 members of the media. The range-topping package, on the other hand, would cost 750.000 francs (€695.129) and allow for 4 vehicles as well as 100 guests. It remains to be seen if any automakers will sign up for the 2021 event, but it’s possible they could just opt for their own standalone event or go the digital route like recent reveals for the Mercedes S-Class, Maserati MC20 and Nissan Z Proto. +++ 

+++ The coronavirus pandemic hammered the auto industry as plants and dealerships were closed due to stay-at-home orders. Both have since reopened and auto sales have quickly rebounded following steep declines earlier this year. Unsurprisingly, trucks have led the way but demand is on the verge of outstripping supply. While it’s no secret that truck inventories have been running low, GENERAL MOTORS (GM) is facing “historically low levels” of supply. In particular, the company only has about 20 days worth of GMC Sierra pickups which is far less than the typical 75-90 day supply. The situation is largely the same at Chevrolet as they have approximately 26 days worth of inventory. Of course, GM got hit by a double whammy of last year’s UAW strike and then the coronavirus pandemic. Both caused plants to close and inventories levels to drop. However, GMC’s Duncan Aldred suggested strong sales are primarily responsible as he said “We’re continuing to sell faster than we build. That’s not a comment on the build schedule, that’s a comment on how fast we’re selling them”. GM’s second quarter results showed year-to-date sales of the Silverado 1500 increased 4.1 % compared to 2019, while the GMC Sierra 1500 was up to 6.0 %. Sales of the heavy duty variants also climbed on a year-to-date basis. At the time, GM noted “solid demand translated to stronger average transaction pricing and lower incentives, with fullsize pickup prices increasing $1.526 versus the first quarter”. Of course, there are some downsides as customers can have a hard time finding the exact truck they want. Strong demand and low inventories also discourage discounts, so you might have to pay more to get behind the wheel of a pickup. +++ 

+++ The Volkswagen GOLF lineup has blossomed this year to include the spicy GTI, GTE, and GTD trio along with the practical Variant and Alltrack duo. There’s more to come on the performance side as 2020 will also see the unveiling of the GTI TCR and the mighty R. The former has been spied conducting final testing at the Nürburgring where Volkswagen brought several prototypes. A more track-focused take on the GTI recipe, the TCR will be a follow-up to the namesake special edition introduced towards the end of the Golf Mk7’s lifecycle. This time around, it’s expected to be a permanent fixture rather than a limited affair, and there’s a pretty good chance it will pack more punch. While its predecessor pushed out a respectable 290 hp, the new version has been all but confirmed to deliver a meaty 300 hp. Even with the extra 10 Wolfsburg-bred horses, the MK8-based GTI TCR still won’t be the most powerful front-wheel-drive Golf ever. Remember the Clubsport S? The former fastest FWD production car at the ‘Ring had an additional 10 hp over the upcoming TCR for a grand total of 310 hp. I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high regarding the availability of a manual gearbox as the previous model came only with a 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Beyond the extra power over the regular GTI, the hardcore TCR is expected to feature a stiffer suspension setup for sharper handling, along with uprated brakes and different aero. VW could install some body-hugging seats and tweak the chassis furthermore to squeeze out more performance from the Honda Civic Type R rival. The Golf GTI TCR should debut in the coming weeks or months, with the flagship R and its nearly 333 hp output not far behind. We’ll remind long-roof fans the R Variant is returning for the Mk8 Golf, based on a recent set of spy shots. +++ 

+++ Volkswagen believes it could sell as many as 500.000 examples of the ID.4 annually. The German car manufacturer is readying itself for the global launch of the long-awaited ID.4 and recently published an internal interview with VW chief executive Ralf Brandstätter and member of the board of management responsible for e-mobility, Thomas Ulbrich. In the interview, the executives discussed the ID.4 and the company’s electrified future. When asked why the ID.4 will be built in Europe, China, and the U.S., Brandstätter stated the automaker intends to build 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2025 with up to one-third of them being ID.4s. “Volkswagen wants to become the world market leader in e-mobility, but that won’t happen by itself. The Volkswagen brand is therefore investing around €11 billion by 2024”, he stated. “As a compact SUV, the ID.4 has, in our view, the best prerequisites for being successful in a large scale in all important markets. We therefore expect the Volkswagen brand to produce a total of 1.5 million e-cars per year by 2025. And the ID.4 is likely to account for around a third of this. The ID.4 will thus become the driving force behind our reorientation a hundred thousand times over”. Ulbrich expanded on this by stating that thanks to the global rollout of the automaker’s MEB platform, VW plans to have built roughly 20 million vehicles on the platform by 2029. The VW ID.4 will celebrate its global debut on September 23 and, in a recent teaser video, the company revealed it will be able to tow up to 1.900 kg. +++ 

+++ “Dear Thierry Bolloré, warmest congratulations on taking the JAGUAR LAND ROVER job, and especially on keeping your candidacy out of the public eye while the long-winded Tata recruitment process played out. It’s remarkable that Financial Times, which prides itself on knowing what comes next, didn’t even mention you in its recent list of probables. Full marks for your discretion. At Autointernationaal.nl, I am very much looking forward to your arrival. The UK car business is dominated by German and German-influenced managers (and has a great deal to thank them for) but it’ll be fascinating to see whether you bring a different management style, and how that plays out. The variety will be refreshing. Although your career at Renault was rudely interrupted last year (we understand it was for political reasons rather than matters of competence), it’s clear your achievements are many and your international experience is great. In particular, your former life as a close associate of ‘le cost cutter’, Carlos Ghosn, looks appropriate. I imagine this might have been part of your appeal to your new bosses at Tata. However, 1 thing we’ll be keen to hear is how you reckon managing a couple of old-established premium marques dovetails with what you’ve done in the mass car market and component supply businesses so far. For many, this will be question one, and it is on the presumption that you don’t yet know everything that long-term reporters of Jaguar’s and Land Rover’s challenges, put forward this list of early priorities: Most important, you must strongly signal, and keep signalling, an abiding admiration for what has been built. Times are hard but this is not a broken company. As the new voice, you will command a lot of attention and we hope you will use it. True, the losses are alarming, but these are exceptional times and even JLR’s sternest critics know it. For most of the decade your predecessor Ralf Speth was in charge, JLR posted successive achievements. In 11 years, the 2 marques have made pre-tax profits totalling £10 billion-plus (even after taking into account a bone-shaking £4 billion loss in 2018 after the ‘perfect storm’ in China). Headcount has trebled since 2009, revenue has quadrupled and investment has expanded 5-fold. JLR now has magnificent new test tracks and engineering facilities. A much-needed new look has been found for Jaguar. The JLR product portfolio has expanded from 8 to 13 models. Annual sales have risen 150 % to 500.000 cars; admittedly lower than the 614.000 peak 3 years ago and likely to go lower in the short term. But JLR today remains the UK’s biggest R&D spender and one of its best innovators, already operating carbon-neutral factories. A new Destination Zero mission (zero accidents, zero congestion, zero pollution) is well under way. Your fresh voice can remind the world of this. Which is absolutely not to say the situation can’t be improved. I’ve divided my suggestions into 3 sections: JLR corporate, Jaguar product and Land Rover product. JLR1) Take immediate control of statements about JLR’s policy and future. The Tata chairman recently announced that a chunk of JLR would not be sold, as is sometimes suggested, to a partner. That announcement could have been a powerful statement from you. JLR2) Put an early end to the ‘will they close Castle Bromwich?’ debate. Kill it or preserve it (depending on your future decisions about the company’s ideal volume) but don’t allow further dithering. JLR3) Carefully consider accepting current Jaguar Land Rover volumes of around 400.000 to 500.000 cars a year or perhaps even shrinking, while enhancing profitability by concentrating on models that start further up the pricing scale. One strong argument says Jaguars should start above €80.000, not at €55.000 in The Netherlands. I’d support the notion of fewer models, maybe less practical but conceived always to inflame buyer desire. JLR4) Devolve your marques further. Don’t just move Jaguar and Land Rover apart but consider separating Range Rover, too. Let Land Rover carry kids and tow the horseboxes; set Range Rover free as the aspirational leader. Forget selling Jaguars to BMW 3 Series buyers; turn Jaguarss into Bentleys for people who aren’t inclined to spend that much. JLR5) Chase quality as never before. It’s no secret that JLR still spends too much on rectification of new cars. Hire the best quality experts from VW, Toyota or Daimler and give them carte blanche to change your processes and designs to enhance quality. JLR6) Separate your Jaguar and Land Rover Classic / Special Vehicle operations, at least in the eye of outsiders. Sure, it’s good housekeeping to bundle them in an outer-Coventry industrial unit, but that does little for brand loyalty. People don’t buy a ‘combined’ Jaguar Land Rover. JLR7) Overhaul communications policy. Both Jaguar and Land Rover trade on exceptional post-war heritages built more by accident than design, but the era of happy accidents is over. You need far-sighted, high-powered marque strategists along the lines of Ford’s legendary Walter Hayes to devise ways of utilising your wonderful back stories and adding new strands. J1) Redouble your efforts to find a modern mission for the Jaguar brand. BMW makes driving machines; Audi does high technology; Mercedes invented the car. What does Jaguar do? At Autointernationaal.nl, I think the marque stands for superb prestige-car value, driving that combines sporting character with great refinement and (above all) exceptional beauty using the human forms of the D-Type or E-Type. Your Jaguar design chief, Julian Thomson, is already working hard on this last part.J2) Find a halo product for Jaguar along the lines of the Range Rover Evoque, which grew out of a ‘no rules’ concept project. I see this as nothing less than the golden key to Jaguar viability. J3) Take bold action (see above) to lower Jaguar’s age profile. It suffers from ‘this is my last car’ syndrome. We’d love to see a prestigious and superbly styled concept that takes advantage of the built-in cuteness and sportiness of small size. An electrified A-Pace, perhaps. J4) Launch your electric luxury saloon as soon as possible. Jaguar’s advantage in beating the market with the I-Pace is leaking away because that fine car looks more and more like a one-hit wonder. J5) Take much more trouble to give the F-Type sports car extra gravitas. 75 % of today’s Porsches are saloons or SUVs, yet the 911 is still revered as the marque’s centrepiece in a way that the F-Type never has been. Give it a mission and a back story. And a big future. J6) Decide a firm Jaguar saloon policy. Pundits say saloons still make up 50 % of world demand for cars. Find a way to participate better in that demand. Maybe you combine your 2 models (the XE and the XF), adding beauty and luxury along the way. J7) Think hard about another project along the lines of the C-X75 supercar your predecessor now regrets not putting into production. That car’s concept generated worldwide attention. Another would do the same. How about a C-X90? LR1) Give Range Rover its freedom. Point it squarely at the Bentley Bentayga on price and prestige. LR2) Face up to the issue that Land Rovers are commonly viewed as unfashionably heavy and diesel powered, perhaps by showing us what a lighter, more efficient electrified 2025 concept could look like. Buyers need a more progressive view of the future. LR3) Increase toughness in Land Rovers. Greater emphasis on ‘relevant capability’ rather than ‘drive to school’ factors is needed because the latter has been overemphasised in the recent past. LR4) Find a design advocate and leader with the same high profile and authority as current incumbent Gerry McGovern (age 64), ready to step up whenever he chooses to go. Much of Land Rover’s current success is down to McGovern’s ability to carry fine design right through to production. LR5) Get on with expanding the third Defender model pillar, not least to show that the pillar theory is still valid. We’re impatient about Discovery progress, too. That’s the one recent Landie that didn’t work. LR6) Give new impetus to Land Rover Experience, the experiential marketing business. There are centres around the world, but the company seems to have stopped talking about them (and not just for Covid-19 reasons). These provide oxygen for much-missed ‘Mr Land Rover’ characters the company has always had. The modern company seems to have lost the awareness that it still needs heroes. Given your other pressing tasks, Thierry, not least just keeping this thing afloat while controlling costs and chasing quality as never before, running JLR looks awesomely difficult. I admire your courage in taking it on. With my loyal readers, I also wish you great and lasting success. To a person, I’m already excited about the fine new models that success will bring”. +++ 

+++ KIA , South Korea’s No. 2 carmaker, said it will suspend 2 plants near Seoul following the confirmation of Covid-19 cases there. A total of 13 coronavirus cases have been traced to the plants in Gwangmyeong, just south of Seoul, including 4 family members of the workers. The plants with a combined workforce of 6.000 remained shuttered for the third consecutive day after the automaker halted their operations in the wake of a confirmed Covid-19 case. Kia said it will decide next week when to resume the plants’ operations after keeping tabs on the development of Covid-19 cases over the weekend. Quarantine officials were conducting coronavirus tests on 151 people who had close contact with the confirmed patients. The 2 plants in Gwangmyeong have a combined capacity of 320.000 units a year and the suspensions are feared to inflict production losses on Kia. Kia produces the Stinger and the Carnival at the No. 1 plant in Gwangmyeong, and the No. 2 plant produces the Rio and the Stonic. Kia, a subsidiary of the Hyundai Motor Group, operates 8 plants in South Korea and 7 overseas ones with a combined capacity of 3.84 million units. +++ 

+++ Elon MUSK is hailed as an innovator and disruptor who went from knowing next to nothing about building cars to running the world’s most valuable automaker in the space of 16 years. But his record shows he is more of a fast learner who forged alliances with firms that had technology Tesla lacked, hired some of their most talented people, and then powered through the boundaries that limited more risk-averse partners. Now, Musk and his team are preparing to outline new steps in Tesla’s drive to become a more self-sufficient company less reliant on suppliers at its “Battery Day” event on September 22. Musk has been dropping hints for months that significant advances in technology will be announced as Tesla strives to produce the low-cost, long-lasting batteries that could put its electric cars on a more equal footing with cheaper gasoline vehicles. New battery cell designs, chemistries and manufacturing processes are just some of the developments that would allow Tesla to reduce its reliance on its long-time battery partner, Panasonic, people familiar with the situation said. “Elon doesn’t want any part of his business to be dependent on someone else”, said one former senior executive at Tesla who declined to be named. “And for better or worse (sometimes better, sometimes worse) he thinks he can do it better, faster and cheaper”. Tesla has battery production partnerships with Panasonic, LG Chem and CATL that are expected to continue. But at the same time, Tesla is moving to control production of cells (the basic component of electric vehicle battery packs) at highly automated factories, including 1 being built near Berlin, Germany and another 1 in Fremont, California where Tesla is hiring dozens of experts in battery cell engineering and manufacturing. “There has been no change in our relationship with Tesla”, Panasonic said in a statement. “Our relationship, both past and present has been sound. Panasonic is not a supplier to Tesla; we are partners. There’s no doubt our partnership will continue to innovate and contribute to the betterment of society”. Since he took over the fledgling company in 2004, Musk’s goal has been to learn enough (from partnerships, acquisitions and talent recruitment) to bring key technologies under Tesla’s control, people familiar with Tesla’s strategy said. They said the aim was to build a heavily vertically integrated company, or a digital version of Ford’s iron-ore-to-Model-A production system of the late 1920s. “Elon thought he could improve on everything the suppliers did. Everything”, said former Tesla supply chain executive Tom Wessner, who is now head of industry consultancy Imprint Advisors. “He wanted to make everything”. Batteries, a big chunk of the cost of an electric car, are central to the Musk method. While subordinates have argued for years against developing proprietary Tesla battery cells, Musk continues to drive toward that goal. “Tell him ‘No’, and then he really wants to do it”, said a third former Tesla veteran. The changes in battery design, chemistry and production processes Tesla expects to reveal next week are aimed at reworking the math that until now has made electric cars more expensive than carbon-emitting vehicles with combustion engines. Autointernationaal.nl reported in May that Tesla is planning to unveil low-cost batteries designed to last for a million miles. Tesla is also working to secure direct supplies of key battery materials, such as nickel, while developing cell chemistries that would no longer need expensive cobalt as well as highly automated manufacturing processes to speed up production. Panasonic is partnered with Tesla at the $5 billion Nevada ‘Gigafactory’, while CATL and LG Chem supply cells to Tesla’s Shanghai factory, where battery modules and packs are assembled for its Model 3. Panasonic recently said it is planning to expand its production lines in Nevada, which supply the cells that then go into the battery modules assembled next door by Tesla. But the Nevada Gigafactory partnership almost didn’t happen, according to 2 former Tesla executives. Musk ordered a team to study battery manufacturing in 2011, according to one former executive, but eventually partnered with Panasonic in 2013. Now, Tesla is testing a battery cell pilot manufacturing line in Fremont and is building its own vast automated cell manufacturing facility in Gruenheide in Germany. The roller-coaster relationship with Panasonic mirrors other Tesla alliances. During its development alliance with Germany’s Daimler, which was an early investor in Tesla, Musk became interested in sensors that would help keep cars within traffic lanes. Until then the Tesla Model S, which Mercedes-Benz engineers helped refine, lacked cameras or sophisticated driver assistance sensors and software such as those used in the Mercedes S-Class. “He learned about that and took it a step further. We asked our engineers to shoot for the moon. He went straight for Mars”, said a senior Daimler engineer said. Meanwhile, an association with Toyota, another early investor, taught him about quality management. Eventually, executives from Daimler and Toyota joined Tesla in key roles, along with talent from Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, as well as rival carmakers Ford, BMW and Audi. Some relationships did not end well, however. Tesla hooked up with Israeli sensor maker Mobileye in 2014, in part to learn how to design a self-driving system that evolved into Tesla’s Autopilot. “Mobileye was the driving force behind the original Autopilot”, said a former Mobileye executive, who declined to be named. Mobileye, which is now owned by Intel, also recognized the risk of sharing technology with a fast-moving startup like Tesla, which was on the brink of collapse at the end of 2008 and now has a market value of $420 billion. But Tesla and Mobileye had an acrimonious and public split after a driver was killed in 2016 when a Model S using the Autopilot system crashed. At the time, Amnon Shashua, who is now Mobileye president and chief executive, said Tesla’s Autopilot was not designed to cover all possible crash situations as it was a driver assistance system, not a driverless system. The former Mobileye executive said there was no question of Tesla improperly using their technology. U.S. tech firm Nvidia followed Mobileye as a supplier for Autopilot, but it too was ultimately sidelined. “Nvidia and Tesla share a common strategy of developing software-defined vehicles powered by high-performance AI computers. Elon is very focused on vertical integration and wanted to make his own chips”, said Nvidia’s senior director of automotive, Danny Shapiro. In addition to partnerships, Musk went on an acquisition spree 4 years ago, buying a handful of little-known companies (Grohmann, Perbix, Riviera, Compass, Hibar Systems) to rapidly advance Tesla’s expertise in automation. Maxwell and SilLion further boosted Tesla’s ability in battery technology. “He learned a lot from those people”, said Mark Ellis, a senior consultant at Munro & Associates, which has studied Tesla extensively. “He leveraged a lot of information from them, then put his spin on making it better”. +++ 

+++ As NISSAN struggles to recover from a boardroom scandal surrounding former chairman Carlos Ghosn and a sales slump that threatens its alliance with Renault, China is emerging as its best bet for a turnaround. Thanks to an early mover advantage and strategic partnership with Dongfeng Motor in 2003, Nissan is one of the strongest Japanese passenger carmakers in China. It ranked 4th (excluding multipurpose vehicles) in June with a 6.7 % share after Volkswagen’s 2 joint ventures and General Motors’ tie-up with SAIC Motor. Ghosn, who was arrested in 2018 on financial misconduct charges and fled in a dramatic escape to Lebanon at the end of last year, called China a “new frontier” when almost 2 decades ago he unveiled Nissan’s push into what is now Asia’s largest economy. In the present, the world’s biggest automobile market is looking more like a key line of defense as China’s economy returns to growth and demand for cars recovers. Nissan has staked its future on improving the quality of sales there, as well as in the United States and at home in Japan. “Weaker brands will be weaker and the stronger ones get stronger, and that’s an opportunity for us”, said Shohei Yamazaki, president of Dongfeng Motor, the Wuhan-based firm that’s in a 50-50 joint venture with Nissan. “But once we fail to keep or improve our brand, then it becomes a risk. It’s easy to fall fast in China”. Even as Nissan’s total retail volume fell about 11 % in the 2019 fiscal year that ended in March, China has been something of a bright spot. Shipments there only slipped 1 percent and still comprised about one-third of Nissan’s global volume of 4.93 million units. Even so, with an aging lineup and restructuring costs, Nissan posted a loss of $6.2 billion in the latest fiscal year. As China restarts its economy from a pandemic-induced shutdown, Nissan’s car shipments have been climbing steadily since April. However, after peaking in July at about 121.000 units (up 12 % from a year earlier), August sales hit a road bump, dipping 2.4 %. “Nissan’s edge in China is its appealing brand power accumulated from competitive models over the years”, said Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the China Passenger Car Association (CPCA). “Yet it’s quite challenging for the company to compete with Toyota because the latter has proven its competitiveness in innovation and competency in winning over motorists for not only its Toyota brand, but also Lexus”. Even so, Nissan’s Sylphy sedan, aimed at younger buyers, overtook Volkswagen’s Lavida as the bestselling model in the country in the first half, CPCA data show. Nissan’s lineup in China, which includes the Altima sedan and the X-Trail, has price tags ranging from 99,800 yuan (¥1.55 million) to 234,800 yuan. “Nissan has established a strong presence in China and continues to grow with a focus on delivering customer satisfaction”, Nissan chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta said in an emailed statement in response to questions. Nissan and Dongfeng aim to boost total vehicle sales to 2.6 million units by 2022 as the country’s population gets richer and embraces car ownership. Nissan sold 1.55 million units in China during the latest fiscal year. To do so, they’ll need to attract more buyers like 30-year-old Jimmy Zhang, an owner of a small restaurant in Beijing who bought a blue Qashqai. “It’s cute and cool at the same time”, he said. “Like other Japanese cars, it’s a very good bargain for the money”. Zhang selected the model from a group of marques including VW and GM, paying about 170,000 yuan. He and his girlfriend, who often uses the car as a backdrop for social media pictures, liked its shape and color. As automakers fight for survival in the era of ride-sharing, autonomous driving and connected cars, gaining China market share is critical for future growth. Automobile sales in the nation accounted for almost 30 % of the world’s total, and the country was the only one that had an annual tally of more than 20 million units last year. China’s share of global vehicle sales is expected to inch up to about one-third this year, according to IHS Markit. Analyst Tatsuo Yoshida says the next 12 months will be critical, adding that Nissan needs to introduce new models at a steady clip. “If Nissan delays even slightly, it will immediately be put in a weaker position”, Yoshida said. “Toyota and Honda will constantly introduce new cars”. Liu Song, a showroom manager at Nissan’s Wuhan Kaitai dealership, said that most buyers are retired public servants looking for cars similar to the ones they used during their careers. “Many customers are coming to buy a second car for their family after the pandemic”, said Song, who used to sell cars for Toyota at a dealership in Zhejiang province. “Models like the Sylphy and Tiida have never been in short supply before in our store”. +++ 

+++ The Macan is one of PORSCHE ’s bestselling models. In fact, it helped the company record strong results in 2019, when it sold more than double SUVs than cars. We all know a brand new Macan is under development but it turns out the Stuttgart-based company is not ready to retire the current model just yet. The new all-electric Macan will go into production in 2022 but Porsche knows not all markets around the globe are ready to embrace electrification. For those regions, the automaker will continue to sell the current model, which will get yet another refresh following the comprehensive facelift from 2018. Spyshots confirm the visual revisions will be minor. Expect the typical light makeover with modified bumpers and revised headlights. Our spies believe the side mirrors from the Sport Design package might become standard equipment for all trim levels but this is something I can’t confirm at this point. More notable changes will happen inside the cabin. The centre console will be redesigned to accommodate Porsche’s latest button-less layout with a large screen and I also spotted a new steering wheel, which looks a lot like the one in the facelifted Panamera. Upgrades to the infotainment system and driver’s digital cluster are probably also in the cards. It’ll be interesting to see how Porsche’s plans will change regarding the next-generation Macan. I won’t be surprised if the manufacturer pushes back the development of the EV slightly to leave more room for the refreshed current-gen Macan on the market. Still, the model should be on track for a debut at some point in 2022. +++ 

+++ SCOTLAND is so eager for its citizens to switch to electric vehicles that it is now offering interest-free loans for used electric vehicles. For quite some time, the country has been offering drivers interest-free loans of up to £35.000 (€39.000) to cover the cost of a purchasing a new electric vehicle, and up to £10.000 to cover the cost of purchase a new electric motorcycle of moped. The interest-free loan can be paid out in 6 years. Scotland has now revealed it will offer locals a loan of up to £20.000 interest-free over a 5 year period to cover the costs of a used electric vehicle. “The global shift towards electric vehicles means that prices are coming down year-on-year, but the price point for new vehicles remains high for many”, Scotland’s cabinet secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, said in a statement. “We want to make it easier for people to switch by providing interest-free finance options for used vehicles. No one who requires a vehicle should be left behind from the benefits these modern vehicles can bring, both in terms of running costs and the environmental benefits”. The Scottish government has spent more than £85 million to encourage its citizens to switch to plug-in vehicles. Many individuals and businesses have made the most of the interest-free loans to enjoy the lower running costs of EVs. Scotland wants to phase out the need for new petrol and diesel cars by 2032, although it doesn’t have the power to ban them as that’s something the United Kingdom needs to do. +++ 

+++ 2 years ago, internal TESLA documents surfaced which suggested the company’s Nevada Gigafactory was producing a “jaw-dropping amount” amount of waste. The documents were shown to Business Insider and the publication reported that “for every 2.500 battery packs and driving units that leave the Gigafactory, an additional 1.000 pieces of ‘nonconforming material’ is created. Half of that will be reworked and put into other car parts. The other half becomes scrap”. This led the publication to estimate the company had spent $150 (€126) million on scrap, but Tesla dismissed that number and said high-levels of scrap material was “something we planned for and is a normal part of a production ramp up”. Tesla investigated the source of the leak and determined it was Gigafactory employee Martin Tripp. CEO Elon Musk took a personal interest in the case and wrote a memo saying that Tripp engaged in “extensive and damaging sabotage” and had shared the information with “unknown third parties”. Tesla fired Tripp and sued him for $167 million in 2018. Now, it appears the case has ended with Tesla claiming victory. Details are limited, but court documents show Tesla was victorious in their lawsuit which claimed Tripp had admitted to hacking the company’s manufacturing operating system, transferring several gigabytes of Tesla data to third parties and making false statements to the media. Unfortunately, we may never know the details as the case was sealed per Tesla’s request. The court said there were “compelling reasons” for this and the motion was unopposed. +++ 

+++ VOLKSWAGEN ’s CEO has reignited discussion on an entry-level compact electric car set to be cheaper than the ID.3 . Speaking ahead of the unveiling of the ID.4 electric SUV, Ralf Brandstätter said: “We’re working on these concepts. Of course, we have to take into account that lower segments will in the future be demanding EVs, and we’re preparing concepts”. Earlier this month, sibling brand Skoda confirmed that its Citigo-e iV electric city car had been discontinued to make way for larger models and new EVs, with its Volkswagen Up and Seat Mii siblings expected to meet the same fate. There’s no word yet on a replacement for the popular but unprofitable city cars, but Brandstätter said: “We’re working on concepts for smaller segments. We will discuss it soon. Cars in smaller segments are important and very interesting for us”. Seat will next year begin production of its new Minimó electric quadricycle. It’s not yet confirmed whether that will be sold under a different name by other Volkswagen Group brands, but Volkswagen is considering urban-focused mobility solutions. “At the moment, we’re focusing on electric vehicles”, said Brandstätter. “Of course we have studied these last-mile proposals and we have some concepts ready, but at the moment, there’s no decision taken going to the market”. Volkswagen is keen to emphasise the flexibility of its MEB platform, which underpins the ID.3 and ID.4 and will go on to provide the basis of the ID.5 saloon, ID.6 SUV, ID.Buzz van and an as-yet-unnamed model from partner Ford. A small electric sports car remains on the cards. Brandstätter refused to give details but said: “MEB is a very versatile platform. Year by year, we will inform you which kind of cars are possible”. Volkswagen’s ID.R electric performance car range is set to be topped by a Tesla Roadster-rivalling coupé/roadster arriving in 2025. Volkswagen’s commitment to building 26 million EVs by 2029 remains unchanged in light of the coronavirus pandemic, with planned investment in e-mobility across the Volkswagen Group now totalling €33 billion. The launch of the ID.4 represents the start of a shift to electrification for Volkswagen’s burgeoning SUV line-up. Boss of e-mobility for the brand Thomas Ulbrich said: “In 2015, we decided to push the SUV market and start our SUV offensive. The ID.4 is the next milestone in this transformation to e-mobility as Volkswagen’s first electric SUV. The ID.4 stands for carbon-neutral mobility and will mobilise millions, because it’s a real global car. It will quickly become a top model, not in a niche, because the market segment is becoming more and more important”. The ID 4 will be built in 5 plants worldwide and sold across three continents, but will receive subtle market-specific tweaks to its styling, interior and technological functions to meet different market tastes. Ulbrich added: “There are definitely regional preferences, so there will be some country-specific adjustments to the ID 4 depending on the region. But Volkswagen is really experienced doing that, as the Tiguan shows. “In essence, the customer wants and gets the same great technology: sufficient range, fast charging and, in a nutshell, a dynamic electric car”. +++ 

+++ Nissan has unveiled the Z PROTO , signaling the company’s intent to launch a new generation of the legendary Z sports car. Shown at a virtual event beamed around the world from the Nissan Pavilion in Yokohama, the prototype car features a new design inside and out, as well as a V6 twin turbocharged engine with a manual transmission. The Nissan Z Proto pays full respect to 50 years of Z heritage. At the same time, it’s a thoroughly modern sports car. “The Z, as a pure sports car, represents the spirit of Nissan”, said CEO Makoto Uchida. “It’s a key model in our Nissan Next transformation plan, and it’s proof of our ability to do what others don’t dare to do, from A to Z. As a Z fan myself, I’m excited to announce that the next Z is coming”. A global community of fans young and old attended the virtual unveiling. The Z Proto boasts a fresh, attractive exterior design with a silhouette that communicates respect for the original model. It sports a bright yellow pearlescent paint (a tribute to a popular paint scheme on both the first generation Z (S30) and the 300ZX (Z32) and a black roof. Combining a retro theme with one that also projected futurism was challenging, said Alfonso Albaisa, head of design at Nissan. “Our designers made countless studies and sketches as we researched each generation and what made them a success”, Albaisa said. “Ultimately, we decided the Z Proto should travel between the decades, including the future”. The shape of the hood and the canted, teardrop-shaped LED headlights are both unmistakable reminders of the original Z. The rectangular grille’s dimensions are similar to the current model with the addition of oval grille fins to offer an updated modern look. The form continues to exude both sportiness and elegance. “The LED headlights have 2 half-circles that hark back to the Japan market-only 240ZG of the 70s”, Albaisa explained. “The ZG has clear dome lenses over the headlight buckets, which under light give off 2 circular reflections over each headlight. We liked that unique characteristic and discovered that it naturally fit with the Z’s identity”. The link to the original Z is most striking when viewing the Z Proto from the side. The roofline flows from the nose to the squared-off rear to create a distinctive first-generation Z profile whose rear edge was slightly lower than the front fender height giving the Z its unique posture. The signature transition from the rear quarter glass to the low-slung position of the rear tail adds to the effect. The rear takes inspiration from the 300ZX (Z32) taillights, reinterpreted for the modern world. Set within a rectangular black section that runs across the rear and wraps around the outer edges, the LED taillights convey a sharp glow. Lightweight carbon fiber treatments on the side skirts, front lower lip and rear valance ensure nimble performance. 19 inch alloy wheels and dual exhausts complete the Z Proto’s striking road presence. +++

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